Faster than my other rec yaks, not by a huge amount but for a plastic boat it's a sleek machine. Tracking is excellent. Primary stability is acceptable for a novice and secondary is reassuring. I don't consider this boat heavy so hoisting atop a SUV is no issue.
This boat was garage kept and the hatch lids seal well for the time being. We'll see come end of summer because I'm a near daily paddler. My only gripe is the retractable skeg has a little slop in it and you can hear it when you paddle, but it works like a charm in the wind. Not the easiest boat to turn but hey, it isn't exactly a short boat.
Overall a solid 8.5 and I'd only give my Hobie AI a 9... no perfect boat. The Essence is a solid plastic touring boat and a good value for the price paid. If you have the opportunity to try one you won't be disappointed.
The boats track well, are stable in most conditions, and fast on the water. The only complaint I have is the hatch covers, which are very hard to put on unless the weather is blisteringly hot.
I kayak solo. I just don't really know anyone else who is interested enough to invest in a kayak. So when I go camping, I go alone. Good in that it allows me some much needed 'alone time', but bad in that I must carry everything needed myself, without having another boat to share the cargo carrying.
I can load the boat with everything I need for a three day/two night endeavor. The storage compartments in the boat carry my tent (2-man), my sleeping bag, a self-inflating bedroll, a couple of bottles of water, four or five cans of soup, a backpacking stove, my camera tripod, folding saw, etc. Most everything I need fits in the cargo holds, and the only things I have to strap to the deck webbing are a folding camp chair, waterproof bag containing camera equipment (DSLR body and lenses), a waterproof bag containing a couple of changes of clothes and extra shoes, extra paddle, and my hand pump for bailing out water.
The seating of the kayak is quite comfortable once you learn how to adjust it. If left loose, I got sore fairly quick, but if you cinch up the back to fit and adjust the thigh braces properly, I could paddle much more efficiently as well as the boat responded much better. Much more comfortable to boot!
The kayak as a deployable skeg which makes a big difference in how the boat tracks. In the stowed position, the boat is maneuverable and turns well, but does not track all that great. Deployed, the kayak stays on course but is difficult to turn. The skeg is adjustable from fully deployed all the way to fully stowed, any amount in between. I find myself going "half open" sometimes which gives a happy medium between straight tracking and turning ability. The skeg fills with mud if you drag it across the ground, and must be cleared before the skeg is usable. Yep, I found that out the hard way after setting out on the water before cleaning the mud in the skeg box!!
I'm happy with this purchase, and recommend the Essence 16.5 to any intermediate paddler. Beginners will find it is a kayak they can grow into. It is stable enough for a beginner to learn with, and capable enough for a more advanced owner to enjoy.
Lets start by comfort. The cockpit is big and the seating system is very decent but the foot pegs are a little small, which means that I’m constantly re-adjusting my feet or the foot braces to compensate at times. You need to get in and find the right seat adjustment and once done usually there is ample room in the back of the seat for safety gear, water bottle etc.
I give it an 8/10 for comfort.
Stability is good and secondary stability is excellent, this kayak wants to spring you back when edging. Perfect for learning and very maneuverable. I have only tipped on purpose and once when taking lessons as I was trying to stabilize my over-extended body with the paddle’s angle and did not quite get the blade of the paddle on the proper angle, my fault not the kayaks.
I give it a 9.5/10 for stability.
Speed is decent, although not a race boat I was able to average about 4 – 5 km cruising speed for a 12 KM excursion in Algonquin Park's Opeongo lake (sorry you will have to convert to miles yourselves) and this against a strong head wind and whitecaps. The boat will cut through the waves.
I give it a 7.5 for speed.
Tracking and maneuverability (ability to go straight and turn) is ok if no wind, but I found mine weather cocks in any significant wind, this is resolved by deploying the built-in skeg which I love because the lever is recessed on the left side of the boat and can be adjusted according to your needs. In hindsight, the kayak would probably not weather cock as much if weight were added to the bow as when fully loaded I noticed a significant improvement without having to deploy the skeg in windy conditions.
I give it a 9.5/10 for tracking and maneuverability
Volume is adequate enough that I can load this kayak for a 5 day trip (this includes a small cooler that collapses, a 3 man tent, sleeping bag, tarps, cooking gear, extra clothes, and a variety of comfort accessories) and I did not use most of the smaller items I brought along so I'm sure I could extend my outings by a few days by packing a little smarter. So for a 16.5' kayak this can hold quite a lot, in fact people are amazed when I show them pictures of my gear once unpacked from the kayak.
I give it a 9.5/10 for storage volume considering its size
In short I was happy when I bought this thing after trying it out and am still happy, My instructor is seriously looking at getting a few for his students after trying it out. I would recommend this boat if you're looking for a plastic kayak as it's very tough and I feel safe in any conditions my area can throw at me.
Wet exits are a snap and re-entry is very easy as this boat's stern sits very low in the water, which makes it a good rolling boat as well I’m told, although I still don't have the technique to do so I will be working on that soon enough ;)
I will lower my score slightly because of gained knowledge but I haven't tried a plastic kayak yet that would make me swap mine out.
Perception did a very good job on this. Only wish they would make the foot braces a little bigger.
I haven't tried rolling yet (because I wanted to work on basic paddling first) and I can honestly say it tracks very straight with the skeg down. Keep in mind I'm nearing 50 years old and although I paddled canoes, this thing is a bit different.
Found the seat comfortable and the side adjustment (strap?) is easy enough to reach for the foot pegs and the skeg control is recessed on the outside of the boat and is easy to operate and you do see a difference. I keep it down when going straight and bring it up when I need to maneuver after I tried a few hard turns with both
I purposely went into wakes of big boats to get a feel of it and I'm happy. I don't think I will be outgrowing this craft soon but even with my newbie skills I was happy with the speed.
I may change my mind after a few more outings but I can't see that happening in the near future. So for now I give it a 9.5
The secondary stability on the boat is fabulous, as mentioned in my previous review, it edges very well, and the handling is very predictable. My only gripe is that the top end speed could be be a little better given it's length, width, and hull design. But hey, I'm out to have fun and not to break any world speed records.
I'm about 6' 200lbs. and this boat fits me very well. By the way, this is for the poly version of this boat, not the composite model. All in all, I am very happy with this kayak, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a boat in this class without breaking the bank. I got mine new for $1260, and it is worth every cent. I'm keeping my score at a 9 due to the somewhat sluggish top end speed, other than that, this baby's a keeper!
I'm still somewhat of a kayaking rookie, having only been out in my bathtub of a rec boat for the last couple of years. What a difference it makes going from a rec boat to a true sea kayak. The initial stability on the Essence is pretty good. The secondary stability is where this boat shines. I don't think I could have capsized this thing if I tried. Well, OK, I was really hoping to not go over, as the water temperature here in NH is still pretty cold this time of year.
I'm giving it an 8, only because of my relative inexperience with kayaking. I'm sure with a little more time on the water, I'll be dancing with this thing, and will be changing my score to a 10. Also, if you live in the NH area, and are in the market for any type of kayak, you owe it to yourself to visit the Contoocook River Canoe and Kayak Co. in Concord. Happy Paddling!